A letter to U.S. Health and Human Services secretary Xavier Becerra calls for immediate action on the 'unsustainable' nurse staffing shortage.
The current nurse staffing shortage must be declared a national crisis and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) should acknowledge it and take concrete action, the American Nurses Association (ANA) wrote in a call-to-arms letter to HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra.
Crisis-level nurse staffing puts nurses' ability to care for patients in jeopardy, the letter said.
"Nurses have remained steadfast on the front lines since the beginning of the pandemic, while overcoming challenges, risks to their personal health, and safety such as limited personal protective equipment and the physical, emotional, and mental health burden of the COVID-19 virus," ANA President Ernest Grant, PhD, RN, FAAN, wrote in the letter. "Now, the Delta variant is causing cases to soar, overrunning hospital and staff capacity. These current circumstances have only exacerbated underlying, chronic nursing workforce challenges that have persisted for years."
"ANA is deeply concerned that this severe shortage of nurses, especially in areas experiencing high numbers of COVID-19 cases, will have long-term repercussions for the profession, the entire healthcare delivery system, and ultimately, on the health of the nation," he wrote.
Shortages of nursing staff are being reported across the country. For example, Mississippi has reported a decrease of 2,000 nurses since the beginning of 2021, Nebraska is recruiting unvaccinated nurses to address workforce challenges, and Louisiana had more than 6,000 unfilled nursing positions open across the state before the Delta variant caused a surge in cases, a shortage that may become more acute as the state deals with the aftermath of Hurricane Ida.
ANA, which represents the interests of the nation's 4.2 million nurses, is calling on HHS to deploy policy solutions to address the staffing situation:
- Convene stakeholders to identify short- and long-term solutions to staffing challenges to face the demand of the COVID-19 pandemic response, ensure the nation's healthcare delivery system is best equipped to provide quality care for patients, and prepare for the future challenges.
- Work with the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) on methodologies and approaches to promote payment equity for nursing services and remove unnecessary regulatory barriers to APRN practice.
- Educate the nation on the importance of the COVID-19 vaccine to provide resources for widespread administration of the COVID-19 vaccine and any subsequent boosters.
- Sustain a nursing workforce that meets current and future staffing demands to ensure access to care for patients and prioritize the mental health of nurses and other health professionals.
- Provide additional resources including recruitment and retention incentives that will attract students to the nursing profession and retain skilled nurses to the demands of patient care.
"ANA stands ready to work with HHS and other stakeholders on a whole of government approach to ensure we have a strong nursing workforce today and in the future," Grant said.
"If we truly value the immeasurable contributions of the nursing workforce," Grant said, "then it is imperative that HHS utilize all available authorities to address this issue."
“ANA is deeply concerned that this severe shortage of nurses, especially in areas experiencing high numbers of COVID-19 cases, will have long-term repercussions for the profession, the entire healthcare delivery system, and ultimately, on the health of the nation.”
Ernest Grant, PhD, RN, FAAN, president, ANA
Carol Davis is the Nursing Editor at HealthLeaders, an HCPro brand.